The death of Henry Kissinger has prompted much verbiage in the press, most of it as pompous as the man himself.

When I was a student of International Relations, many many years ago, all but one of the teaching staff in that most august of Universities, was either a card carrying member of the Conservative Party, or liable to break into childish laughter if a student dared suggest there was an alternative perspective to the Realist, or Power theory of IR. There was, in the form of the economic interdependence theories of Keohane and Nye, based on the argument that states that trade with each other don't wage war against each other. What was dismissed as a fantasy became reality after the Cold War, until Covid undermined its functionality, it not its purpose.

Kissinger was a Realist, an heir to another German-American realist, Hans Morgenthau, and in policy terms the Containment strategy devised by George Kennan in the 1940s that shaped US policy in the Cold War.

There is little sophistication in the Realist view: power is political and military, and when required, one or both are used in the interests of the State with no tears shed or guilt amassed for the destruction of life and property. Thus, the UN was never of any interest to Kissinger, other than as a vehicle of American power: the idea of global co-operation shaped by international law, known as the Charter of the UN, was for Kissinger all but irrelevant.

Kissinger was born in Europe, and shaped by the view that international politics was shaped by the USA and the USSR, with Europe and China interesting but not important. He had no interest in small states as countries in themselves, hence the relentless bombing of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia was deemed necessary to ensure the USSR knew the USA would not back down in its confrontation with what Kissinger saw as Soviet Proxies. Thus, the USA sponsored UNITA in Angola as a chess move against the USSR's sponsorship of Cuba, Angola itself being of zero interest to HK, ditto Israel and the Arabs where the key issue was to break the relationship that the USSR had formed with Egypt at a time when Egypt was viewed as the Premier State in the region. Zero sum: Russia loses, the USA wins, sorted. Israel was protected because it was a Bishop in the game; Turkey was allowed to invade Cyprus and stay there, because after all, who cares about Cyprus?

And yet, it was Anwar Sadat, not Kissinger who took the initiative, who broke with the USSR and went to Israel to talk peace with Menachem Begin, Kissinger came in on the tide; just as it was Zhou Enlai who contacted the US when he could see China sliding into a disastrous war with the USSR, a move that indicated Zhou had been if not plotting against Mao, then sidelining him, and anyway Mao by the time of Nixon's visit was a spent force.

Kissinger claimed once he had never heard of General Pinochet until after the Coup in Chile in 1973, and though literally it might be true, he was well aware the CIA had been fomenting unrest in the country, because it was doing so across Central and Southern America, not because they cared about Chile or Argentina or Uruguay, but because the chess game against Soviet influence demanded it.

Thus, in the end, all one has is brute force, followed by a diplomacy that seeks to achieve, or impose upon the parties, the political resolution that caused the war in the first place.

Did HK succeed? Detente in the 1970s led to various treaties on arms control with the USSR, but to his critics enabled the USSR to re-develop its military, though Brezhnev's decision to prop up the revolutionary government of Afghanistan may have begun the death march of the USSR. In the end you might argue, for the Realist Brezhnev, it was all for nothing,

Kissinger thus presided over the loss of Afghanistan, never of much interest to the US other than its strategic position to 'pro-Soviet' India (as the US believed). The US lost its client in Ethiopia, and crucially Iran by the end of the decade, popular revolutions being beyond Kissinger's comprehension.

The zero sum game, one notes, continues to blight the world with mass murder and the displacement of real people the inevitable result: for Kissinger, this is the way the world works. For so many real people, this is the way the word ends.